Indigenous Calendar February, 2018: Empowering Dianas

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Any opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the policies of The Peoples of the World Foundation. Unless otherwise noted, the author and photographer is Dr. Ray Waddington.

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Whether the context is prostitution dressed as a fundraising event in England, an Olympic team doctor sexually abusing his female charges in the United States or the rape of an eight-month-old baby girl in India, we need look back only one month to realize that what the late Christopher Hitchens advocated ("It's colloquially called 'The Empowerment of Women'," he said), is as much an oxymoron in the Twenty-first Century as it has ever been. If we care to look back a whole year we will find numerous other confirmations.

Diana was the Roman goddess of hunting. In his eulogy for his sister, Diana, Princess of Wales, Earl Spencer pointed out the irony that: "... a girl given the name of the ancient goddess of hunting was, in the end, the most hunted person of the modern age." She became an empowering Diana in her short life and a heroine to millions. I too have heroines. Among them are Nadia Comaneci and Malala Yousafzai. They might seem to have nothing in common apart from their gender, yet they both achieved greatness at a young age despite tremendous odds. Like Diana, Princess of Wales, they have inspired countless young girls to become successful women.

The young girl in this month's photo is not named Diana. Nor is it likely she will ever become a Diana — even though her community is one of hunters. She is an indigenous Akha girl whom I photographed many years ago. Unlike Romans of the modern age, the Akha people still believe in gods that guide their hunting. But those gods guide only hunting by men. I have accompanied Akha men on hunting trips — but always without girls or women. Akha girls and women are not empowered to pursue hunting because of gender discrimination.

A year ago I added a new heroine to my list. Like Nadia and Malala, Nurgaiv Aisholpan is a female who achieved greatness at a young age despite tremendous odds and who has inspired millions. Like them also, a film has been made about her. Controversial and negatively criticized for many reasons, The Eagle Huntress is one of the most inspirational films I have ever seen. I would even go as far as saying that when Aisholpan wins the annual Golden Eagle Festival at her first attempt, it is one of the greatest moments in cinematic history! She is an indigenous, Kazakh, teenaged girl from Mongolia and she is a Diana. She has also done more for Mongolian tourism than anyone since Genghis Khan. Within minutes of the beginning of The Eagle Huntress I had decided to go to Mongolia where, a few months ago, I saw her compete in her fourth Golden Eagle Festival.

We vainly celebrate our culture of Western education. Yet Nurgaiv — Aisholpan's father who helped empower her to become a Diana — is a nomadic herder whose people have survived for thousands of years without Western education. He understands why we should empower Dianas. Is he correct? At last year's Golden Eagle Festival, more Dianas competed alongside Aisholpan. She is now, herself, a Diana empowering Dianas.

The Akha are featured in our documentary, Indigenous Peoples of Southeast Asia.

The Altai Kazakh people are the subject of our documentary, The Last Kazakh Nomads of Mongolia.

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